Penn State scored a major victory Tuesday in its journey to return to an even playing field on the gridiron following NCAA sanctions.
Tuesday, the NCAA eased the scholarship limits against the Nittany Lions. PSU can now sign 20 recruits in its Class of 2014 and have 75 players on scholarship when the 2014 season commences.
Previously, Penn State was limited to 15 recruits in the Class of 2014 and 65 scholarships for the 2014 season. How does the NCAA decision to ease Penn State's scholarship restrictions impact the recruiting situation? We hit the reset button, and take a look at where head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff may go from here.
The NCAA's decision won't only impact the Class of 2014, but also future classes. Penn State's total scholarship counter will jump to 80 for the 2015 season and will be restored to a full 85 scholarships by the 2016 season. Similarly, the Lions will be able to offer a full 25 scholarships beginning with the Class of 2015, a number that will not dip over the remainder of the sanctions.
Many have been quick to conclude that Penn State can sign up to eight more prospects in the Class of 2014, basing that on the fact that the Lions already have 12 recruits verbally committed to their class. But it is not that simple.
O'Brien and his staff have proved adept in finding creative recruiting strategies, and that shouldn't change here. Millville (N.J.) High defensive tackle Antoine White and IMG (Bradenton, Fla.) Academy quarterback Michael O'Connor have already made clear their intentions to enroll early, meaning they can count against the Class of 2013. Spots are open in that class due to a number of early enrollees from it and because two players from it are no longer with the team.
Further, Penn State could sign even more players — if it opts to take this route — and have them enroll in January of 2015. The practice of "gray-shirting" would allow those prospects to count against the Class of 2015.
The long and short of it is really not that difficult to grasp: at this point, there is virtually no way to determine exactly how many recruits Penn State will end up with come February 2014. That will depend on the quality of prospects available, and how the staff chooses to use early enrollees and grayshirts.
Where Things Stand
Twelve high school seniors have already offered verbal pledges to Penn State as of this posting. Joining White and O'Connor are: receivers Chris Godwin, Troy Apke and De'Andre Thompkins; running backs Nick Scott and Mark Allen; cornerbacks Da'Quan Worley and Troy Vincent Jr.; safety Marcus Allen; middle linebacker Troy Reeder; and offensive tackle Noah Beh.
Areas of Need
Clearly the biggest advantage to having more scholarships is the ability to take more players at key positions of need. O'Brien said so himself Tuesday during the weekly Big Ten Coaches Teleconference.
"The difficult part came with the numbers. For instance, say that you could only take one "such-and-such" position — say it was an offensive tackle," O'Brien said. "That was difficult that you were only going to be able to take one kid in the class for that position. That was tough."
The need for more offensive tackles in this class could be considered a priority, especially when considering the fact that Beh may not grow into a prototypical Big Ten tackle. Including run-ons, Penn State will have 15 offensive linemen on the roster next year. Excluding run-ons, that total drops to just 10 scholarship linemen.
An outside linebacker — or two — would have to be included on any wish list, too. Depth forced true freshman Brandon Bell into action against Eastern Michigan, and it doesn't get any better next fall, as the FOS Scholarship Matrix shows just six scholarship linebackers expected to be in the fold. One of them, Gary Wooten, has yet to take a snap at linebacker during his time in blue and white.
From there, defensive tackle would be next on the list. Tight end has quickly and surprisingly become an area of need, too.
When De La Salle College (Warren, Mich.) linebacker Jared Wangler bolted for his father's alma mater, Michigan, in August, it left Penn State sans the outside linebacker it needs in this class thanks to the loss of Central Dauphin linebacker Zayd Issah from the Class of 2013.
The staff quickly found its bearings by offering Lawrence Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) four-star linebacker Brandon Lee, who told Scout as recently as early September that Penn State was included in his top six. Since then, he's not spoken publicly about the Lions, and until he plans a visit or shows any more signs of interest, it's hard to peg him as a prospect PSU will land.
Hunterdon Central (Flemington, N.J.) three-star Jason Cabinda and Clearfield (Pa.) three-star Christian Lezzer are seemingly next on the list, but neither has received an offer yet. Penn State linebacker coach Ron Vanderlinden watched Lezzer in early September, and Fight On State has learned a member of the staff will be in attendance for Cabinda's game this Friday, but both are already verbally committed to other schools. Cabinda offered a pledge to Syracuse, while Lezzer verbally committed to Boston College.
It's expected that either would give serious considerations to a Penn State offer, but many recruits react that way before an offer, and new decision, are on the table. Only time will tell.
Abraham Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y) DT Thomas Holley remains near the top of Penn State's wish list at the position, but the four-star has gone quiet of late. He has yet to set any official visits.
Right behind Holley is Bethel High (Hampton, Va.) three-star Ricky Walker, who says he still regularly speaks to the PSU staff. Though it is not set in stone, he told Fight On State Monday night that he plans to visit University Park for Penn State's Oct. 12 Homecoming match-up with Michigan. It's long been believed that Virginia Tech and Penn State top his list, though Nebraska, among others, is making a strong push.
It's clear that these two are at the top of the list, but might additional scholarships mean additional tackles? The board after Holley and Walker is rather light, meaning if Penn State is to score another prospect, it might have to come from a recruit already committed elsewhere.
No confusion with this one: it's Southern Regional (Manahawkin, N.J.) three-star Mike Gesicki or bust for the Lions, at least for now.
Scout East analyst Brian Dohn believes the tight end will ultimately decide between Ohio State and Penn State, and he has official visits set for both programs. Considering Gesicki was offered after many believed an offer for him was out of the picture, the Lions have not aggressively pursued the position in this cycle.